I don’t even know how many times we ended up in Buenos Aires. Five? Ten? Sometime we rest in Buenos Aires, sometime the city is just a convenient hub from where we arrive or leave. The result is the same: we know the city pretty well. Of course, I can’t claim I’ve been everywhere but I think we visited all the main attractions and walked in every barrio. Hell, I can even find my way without a map.
So how were we going to spend these few days in Buenos Aires?
My first request was to skip La Boca. I like the barrio, it’s colourful and fun, but it’s a bit hard to get to and it’s very touristic and crowded. We’ve been there too many times, the Caminito doesn’t change. Since we are usually staying in the Microcentro, it goes without saying that we will walk Florida and Lavalle, the two pedestrian streets, about a thousand of times. I don’t mind it even if it can be annoying to hear “cambio? Cambio?” every two meters. You know you reached Lavalle when instead of money exchange services, people tout for parillas. Corriente, on both sides of the Obelisk, is also a street we walk a lot because it has restaurants, banks and convenience stores.
Outside the Microcentro, I like artsy and bohemian San Telmo. Except during the Sunday street market, the streets are fairly relaxing and even though most designer shops are expensive, it’s still a fun place to hang out. Posh La Recoleta reminds me of Paris with its residents, bitchy-looking middle-aged women who wear fancy clothes and way too much makeup. They sigh loudly when we pass them with the stroller—oh, no, we brushed past them or walked too close to their pocket-sized dog! We still hang out there though, La Recoleta has the coolest playgrounds and parks for kids—gee, of course, the nanny needs to keep the little ones busy!
In Buenos Aires, I always enjoy the many classic panaderías and confiterías selling delicious facturas— bite-sized pastries—and sandwiches de miga—thin white bread without crust filled with ham and cheese or whatever combination is available. The going rate is about 60 cents for a pastry and $1.60 for a sandwich—cheap treats. Most restaurants serve pizzas and giant steaks but I wasn’t hungry for the real deal because it was very hot. Fortunately, salads here were fresher and fancier than in Chile.
The zoo and the exhibitions at La Rural were a bit expensive (about $20 for a ticket) so we skipped them and visited the free Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. We had never been before and I’m glad we finally checked it out, it had a very interesting collection of European and Argentinian artists (including a few Monet and Van Gogh) and a cool exhibition with art from Roberto Plate.
The city was very quiet during Carnival, the Monday and the Tuesday were two feriados. Many small businesses were closed but enough stores were still operating that it wasn’t a major inconvenience for us. The Microcentro was quieter than usual which is a blessing considering about 6 million people work in Buenos Aires.
Despite what residents may say about the city, I feel pretty safe there. I spent a day hanging out with Mark when Feng had to work, we walked all the way to the “dead people place” and the 9 de Julio and even if some streets were deserted, I felt perfectly fine. I took long walks alone at night (… by night, I mean before midnight) around the theater district and the Microcentro and no one ever bothered me. I appreciate that, Buenos Aires is a good place to enjoy the perks of urban life.
Yet, I don’t think I would live there. It reminds me of France too much. I can’t pinpoint exactly what annoys me about Buenos Aires compare to, let’s say, my beloved Santiago. Sure, it’s a bit dirty, a bit gritty, a bit polluted… but most major cities are too, it goes with the territory. I think that I dislike the fact that social classes are well delineated with the upper and lower classes, each staying in their own barrio, living separate lives. The world changed. Class struggle remains. Argentina clings to its past grandeur to the point of disillusion, yet no one seems to be truly happy. I felt a different energy in Chile where the population is young and where politicians try to be more open about the past, and Brazil is also looking forward. Cry for me, Argentina?